Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Wither the Wild Rogue?

Say “the Rogue” (perhaps with a long-e sound in “the” and certainly with just the slightest pause after “the” to convey a sense of sacredness), and for most Oregonian listeners both memories and hopes will arise in the mind.

Perhaps the memory will be of putting in at Grave Creek and almost immediately having Rainie Falls get the best of your raft guide and you falling parallel to your raft that is now vertical. Or walking the Rogue River National Recreation Trail, either camping or staying in lodges along the way. Perhaps you haven’t done the Rogue yet, but it is certainly on your bucket list.

When Representative Greg Walden (R-2nd-OR) hears “the Rogue,” he happily dreams of the roar of chainsaws. But now Walden is down and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-4th-OR) is up, and the stars have aligned to save the Wild Rogue. You can help.

Figure 1.  The Kelsey Whisky Timber Sale proposed within the Wild Rogue Wilderness additions by the Bureau of Land Management would have logged most pristine older forest. Source: Jay Lininger (first appeared in the book   Oregon Wild: Endangered Forest Wilderness  , by the author).

Figure 1. The Kelsey Whisky Timber Sale proposed within the Wild Rogue Wilderness additions by the Bureau of Land Management would have logged most pristine older forest.Source: Jay Lininger (first appeared in the book Oregon Wild: Endangered Forest Wilderness, by the author).

 The Lame Lame-Duck Opportunity of the 115th Congress

Late in December 2018, during the lame-duck session of the 115th Congress, a deal was almost struck to move an omnibus public lands package of legislation. The package compiled specific bills that were legislatively ready to advance. Some of the bills in the package were quite good, others quite bad.

One of the good bills was a version of the proposed Oregon Wildlands Act (OWA; S.1699, 115th Congress) sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and cosponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The OWA would extend wilderness, wild and scenic river, and/or other protection to various parcels of federal public land in western Oregon, thereby elevating the conservation status of 322,967 acres. (The next Public Lands Blogpost will detail the areas in the OWA as well as a wild steelhead protection bill that was included in the lame-duck effort.) However, stripped out of the OWA for inclusion in the omnibus package were protections for Oregon’s iconic and incomparable Rogue River Canyon. (Also stripped out were some protections for Oregon’s Molalla River watershed, detailed in the next blog post.)

In this saga at the end of the 115th Congress, there were heroes (such as Ron Wyden) and villains (such as Greg Walden). As this saga continues early in the 116th Congress, more heroes (such as Peter DeFazio) will have an opportunity to save the Rogue, and villains will have a diminished capacity to thwart the saving of the Rogue.

Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, succeeded in getting his OWA through committee on October 2, 2018, late in the regular 2nd Session. The bill was essentially passed out of committee as introduced, save for the Republican majority staff insisting on downgrading the proposed Rogue Canyon and Molalla “nationalrecreation areas” (NRAs) to mere “recreation areas.” They would have been the first NRAs to be designated on Bureau of Land Management holdings. While the statutory protections specified in the OWA were not weakened, words matter. These areas are of national significance and should be so recognized.

Specific to the Rogue, included in the committee-approved version, were 

• an expansion of the Wild Rogue Wilderness by 59,512 acres,

• an expansion of the Rogue Wild and Scenic River by 117.6 miles by the inclusion of numerous tributaries,

• establishment of a Rogue Canyon NationalRecreation Area of 98,000 acres surrounding the proposed wilderness expansion, and

• a no-dam and no-mining mandate for certain other critical Rogue tributaries, totaling 27.6 miles.

Here’s the essence of what went down with the lame duck omnibus public lands package, specific to saving the Rogue:

1. Wyden pushes for his OWA, as reported out of committee, to be in the omnibus package.

2. Prompted by the American Forest Resources Council, Walden objects to inclusion of the Rogue Canyon and Molalla “recreation areas” because they “scored” as having an additional fiscal cost under the House of Representatives rules. He also objects to the Wild Rogue Wilderness expansion—even though none of the proposed protections are in his congressional district. Besides being one of the most powerful (at that moment, but not now) members of Congress and close to Rep. Rob Bishop (R-3rd-UT) who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, Walden is whispering in the ear of Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Murkowski has earlier supported protection for the lower Rogue area, as defined in Wyden’s OWA. Bishop has never done right by public lands.

3. In a heart-wrenching move to salvage his bill and keep it from being removed from the omnibus package, Wyden accedes to Walden and drops the Wild Rogue Wilderness addition and the two nationalrecreation areas from the bill.

4. When an attempt is made to vote on it in the Senate, the omnibus bill dies due to the objections of Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), a fundamentally reprehensible individual. The Senate runs out of time and the House never takes it up. Onward to the 116th Congress of 2019–20.

The First, Second, and Third Congressional Battles to Save the Rogue 

The first battle to save the Rogue was won in 1968, when Congress enacted the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which included a 44.5-mile stretch of the Rogue River as one of the nation’s first wild and scenic rivers. Senator Mark Hatfield was instrumental in saving that stretch of the Rogue. Senator Bob Packwood was also supportive.

The second battle to save the Rogue was won in 1978, when Congress passed the Endangered American Wilderness Act of 1978, which established the Wild Rogue Wilderness, primarily including national forest lands on the Siskiyou National Forest in the Rogue Canyon of the lower river. The Wild Rogue was one of the first two wilderness areas to include lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Representative Jim Weaver (D-4th-OR), predecessor of Representative Peter DeFazio, was instrumental in securing the Wild Rogue Wilderness over the reluctance of Hatfield and the opposition of Packwood.

The third battle to save the Rogue was won in 1988, when Congress established the Upper Rogue Wild and Scenic River, 40.3 miles in length, on the Rogue River National Forest near Crater Lake National Park. History gives Senator Hatfield most of the credit for the Oregon Omnibus Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1988, but Hatfield was initially prompted to action by a young member of Congress named Peter DeFazio. DeFazio led the effort for the Oregon Omnibus Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in the House of Representatives. Packwood was a Senate cosponsor and Representatives Les AuCoin (D-1st-OR), Ron Wyden (D-3rd-OR), and Mike Lowry (D-7th-WA) were cosponsors.

The Fourth Battle to Save the Rogue

We are now engaged in the fourth battle to save the Rogue. Map 1 depicts the Rogue-relevant boundaries that were approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in October 2018.

Map 1.  Protections for the lower Rogue River Canyon in the proposed Oregon Wilderness Act of 2018. Walden opposed the Wild Rogue Wilderness expansion (pink) and the Rogue Canyon NationalRecreation Area (outlined in red).  Source: Senator Ron Wyden.

Map 1. Protections for the lower Rogue River Canyon in the proposed Oregon Wilderness Act of 2018. Walden opposed the Wild Rogue Wilderness expansion (pink) and the Rogue Canyon NationalRecreation Area (outlined in red). Source: Senator Ron Wyden.

In 2008 Representative Peter DeFazio (D-4th-OR) took the first legislative step to protect the portion of the Rogue Canyon administered by the Bureau of Land Management from timber sales and other harmful activities (see Table 1). The BLM was proposing the horrendous Kelsey Whisky Timber Sale (Figure 1), which would have logged and roaded most pristine older (mature and old-growth) forest. (The sale was killed because it would have jeopardized the continued existence of the northern spotted owl.)

Table1.png

In each Congress since then, legislation has been introduced to save the Rogue. As the Congresses have passed, the legislation has expanded from just proposing to enlarge the Lower Rogue Wild and Scenic River to also enlarging the Wild Rogue Wilderness as well, and then to also include also the establishment of a Rogue River National Recreation Area.

DeFazio’s Hour to Save the Rogue 

Representative Peter DeFazio launched the fourth battle for the Rogue in 2008. The political stars have aligned so DeFazio can finish it in 2019.

In the 115th Congress, Republican Greg Walden was one of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives, and Democrat Peter DeFazio was not. In this 116th Congress, the power dynamic has reversed. Walden no longer chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and DeFazio now chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the source of much specific spending of great interest to all members of Congress. Unfortunately, Walden can still whisper in Senator Murkowski’s ear, but perhaps his voice is weaker. Fortunately, DeFazio can now bring home the saving of the Rogue that he has long sought.

A close examination of Table 1 reveals that DeFazio did not reintroduce his legislation to protect the Wild Rogue in either the 114th or 115th (2015–2018) Congress. One can only assume that this was due to how utterly futile the effort would have been. The Republicans were in strong control of the House of Representatives and it was a horrible time for the nation’s public lands.

But now the dark days of the anti-environment Republican hegemony in the House of Representatives are over. The Democrats are back. Representative Rob Bishop (R-1st-UT) no longer chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, replaced by Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-3rd-AZ), a tireless defender of nature and DeFazio ally. (DeFazio was long a member of that committee, which has jurisdiction over the nation’s public lands.) DeFazio, having first entered Congress in 1987, is now one of the most powerful members of the House. It’s payback time.

In the House, the path is clear. If DeFazio wants the Wild Rogue protected, such protection will be in the House version of the bill. In a bit of political irony, the Senate, where all the action to save the Rogue has been of late, is a bit trickier. Walden, though a shadow of his formerly powerful self, still has Senator Murkowski’s cell phone number. Wyden’s ability to prevail over Walden with Murkowski will be greatly enhanced if the member of Congress in whose district the Wild Rogue is located (DeFazio) is leading the charge in the House.

Behind every wilderness area, every wild and scenic river, and/or every national what-have-you area is a federal elected official who saw it through to victory. Often the path is long, steep, and twisted, but such is the price of securing the benefits of the wild for this and future generations. If DeFazio succeeds in saving the Rogue, history will remember. 

At seventy-one and apparent excellent health, DeFazio may well wish to continue to serve in the House of Representatives for several more Congresses. He’s politically popular and probably can. However, while DeFazio’s continued re-election, if he wants it, is a safe bet, the continued control of the House of Representatives by the Democrats is not such a safe bet. The door has opened to save the Wild Rogue, and DeFazio is now striding on the sunny side of the congressional street rather than the in the gutter of the dark side of the street, which is how the majority Republicans  have treated the minority Democrats in the House of Representatives. It’s time to make legislation while the sun shines.

The Tremendous Opportunity in the 116th Congress: How You Can Help

It’s all-hands-on-deck time in this fourth battle to save the Rogue. Oregonians in particular need to let their federal elected officials know it’s time to save the Rogue by expanding the Wild Rogue Wilderness and establishing the Rogue NationalRecreation Area. Please contact your two US senators and your US representative. Clink on the links to their names below to send them a message through their website, using your own words about how important the Rogue is to you and perhaps riffing on the particular suggestions made here. Be sure to know the four-digit extension to your zip code (look at some of your mail), as such is necessary to get past the digital gate to leave a message with your members of Congress. Don’t bother trying to contact any member of Congress besides your own.

If you don’t know who represents you in the House of Representatives, you can find out here.

Sen. Ron Wyden: An Oregon Wildlands Act cannot be worthy of its name without one of Oregon’s wildest wildlands, the Wild Rogue Wilderness and your pioneering Rogue Canyon NationalRecreation Area, being in it. Stay strong.

Sen. Jeff Merkley: Saving the Rogue is of national significance. Please stand strong with Wyden on this.

Rep. Peter DeFazio: You were the first to champion saving the Rogue from timber sales in 2008. Your decade-long perseverance can finally pay off. As one of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives, you can get the Wild Rogue, which is in your district, over the finish line.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer. Please tell DeFazio you are ready to help him bring home the Wild Rogue. And thanks for cosponsoring every one of DeFazio’s Wild Rogue bills since 2008.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici. Please tell DeFazio you are ready to help him bring home the Wild Rogue. And thanks for cosponsoring DeFazio’s Wild Rogue bills since you entered Congress.

Rep. Kurt Schrader. Please tell DeFazio you are ready to help him bring home the Wild Rogue. Thanks for cosponsoring DeFazio’s Wild Rogue bills since you entered Congress. And thanks for your leadership on saving the Molalla!

Rep. Greg Walden. You want to road and clear-cut the Rogue Canyon! Really? Oregon history will not remember you kindly.